OMAHA — One bad inning against an elite offense can quickly put a team in a hole. A terrible inning from multiple pitchers makes it impossible to get out of that hole.
Six different Longhorn hurlers were required to complete a near three-hour sixth inning interrupted by a rain delay. Multiple walks and hits allowed 14 Razorbacks to come to the plate to score eight. Texas moved into the loser’s bracket following the 11-5 loss.
Trailing by one run against the Razorbacks, Nolan Kingham returned to the mound in the sixth inning having only given up three runs to a stacked Razorback lineup.
He gave up two hard singles before being replaced by Parker Joe Robinson. The pitcher nicknamed “Houdini” not only couldn’t escape the jam, he couldn’t find the plate. He walked the bases loaded, then walked in a run before being replaced by Josh Sawyer. Sawyer did the same and walked in another run.
“You look back at that and you would really say ‘should have stuck with Nolan,’” Texas head coach David Pierce said after the game. “But Parker Joe hadn’t walked two guys in the entire year back-to-back and that’s what happened, and it just unraveled.”
The game went into a weather delay due to an isolated thunderstorm. For almost three hours, both teams waited in their clubhouses. When the Longhorns returned to the field, Pierce decided to put his No. 2 starter Chase Shugart on the mound with the bases loaded and nobody out.
“The thinking was we’re in a pickle,” Pierce said. We need to get our best guy in the game right now, and if we can get it within one run, as far as giving up one run so it’s a four run deficit, and then we can tack on runs, maybe two, then we were going to stick with Chase.”
The high stakes gamble didn’t pay off. Shugart’s first pitch was pulled into left field by Casey Martin, scoring one. Fellow Arkansas freshman Heston Kjerstad slapped his own single to score two, and the rout was on.
Although it was 8-2, the Hogs weren’t done. Texas brought in Kamron Fields to replace Shugart. Facing one of the best lineups in the country, the freshman picked up where the junior left off as far as allowing runs.
Back-to-back singles from Dominic Fletcher and Carson Shaddy brought home three to make it a nine run game. Andy McGuire got the final out of the sixth after five others struggled to get the other two.
Four Razorbacks were walked in the sixth inning. Two of those walks came with the bases loaded. Three different pitchers failed to record a single out.
After what had been a solid start pitching-wise from Kingham, the sixth inning destroyed any Longhorn hopes of a victory.
“You can’t afford to pitch behind Arkansas,” Pierce said. “That’s what happened when we got unraveled.
Texas added three runs in the eighth and ninth with Austin Todd and Zach Zubia collecting RBIs from base hits. Those were in addition to RBIs from Ryan Reynolds and David Hamilton earlier in the game. However, the five total runs were not enough to overcome the offensive output from the Razorbacks in the sixth.
Though in a precarious situation, the Longhorns have experience in this position. They lost the first game of the super regionals to Tennessee Tech, but Omaha is a different playing experience than the comforts of Disch-Falk Field. Still, anything can take place in Omaha.
“I’ve seen it happen,” Pierce said. “I’ve seen teams lose the first one then come back and win the national championship. We’re not done. We’re going to compete until the end.”
In addition, a figure who was present in so much of Texas’ baseball history and the hearts of the 2018 team had a more physical manifestation in Sunday’s game.
Rather than his normal No. 22, Pierce wore Augie Garrido’s signature No. 16 jersey and will throughout the Longhorns’ Omaha trip in tribute to one of the game’s most important figures.
The idea formed in Pierce’s head during the Big 12 Tournament. He approached equipment manager Vince Alcazar while in Oklahoma City and said if the Longhorns made it to Omaha, he wanted to wear Garrido’s number on his jersey.
“Once we clinched the super regional, I walked into my office and Vinny was sitting there holding them,” Pierce said about the No. 16 threads. “It was a good moment. I was able to tell the players about it.”
Though a fitting tribute to the coach who reached Omaha 15 times in his career, Pierce tried to make sure it wasn’t a distraction to this team. He told the team his plans earlier in the week rather than right before the first game in Omaha.
Now, Texas has to win to make sure No. 16 doesn’t only see the field twice in the College World Series.
Texas plays the loser of Sunday’s Texas Tech versus Florida matchup at 1 p.m. on Tuesday. Pierce wouldn’t confirm who between Shugart or Blair Henley would get the start after the game, but he said both would be available.